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Wilson Finds He Isn't Only Governor Wooing Businesses

January 12, 1994|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The next time somebody accuses Gov. Pete Wilson of exaggerating the threat posed by other states luring employers--and jobs--out of California, he will have a ready rejoinder.

Visiting the Twin Cities Tuesday to tout what he calls the California Comeback, Wilson found evidence to support his view that the competition for commerce is fierce, and that the Golden State is the bull's-eye in the sights of other states urging companies to move.

As Wilson was trudging through the icy streets here to meet with corporate executives, his counterpart--Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson--was in Hollywood courting movie producers with offers to film more features in this state, as they did with the recently released "Grumpy Old Men."

And while Wilson and the legislative leaders who accompanied him were telling their story to officials at 3M, Target Stores and General Mills, among others, Minnesota's trade team was mailing out pamphlets offering "Ten good reasons for California businesses to locate here."

Wilson's goal is to turn negative impressions around and to spread the news that California is "back in business" and eager to help any company that wants to start a business or expand an existing one.

The Republican governor insisted that he was not trying to persuade companies to leave Minnesota for California, only to expand their holdings in his state rather than in Oregon, Nevada or Arizona.

"It's not a raid,' he told local reporters gathered at the Hotel St. Paul to hear his pitch.

But they were skeptical.

"We welcome Gov. Wilson into the state," said Lynn Kenagy, director of communications for the Minnesota Trade and Economic Development Department. "I'm sure our companies are happy to listen to what he has to say. But it may be a tough sell."

Kenagy's department is sending the recruiting brochure to California companies.

Among other things, the pamphlet boasts that the cost of living in Minneapolis-St. Paul is 19% lower than in Los Angeles, that Minnesota's crime rate is 34% lower than California's, and that Minnesota's businesses pay less for energy and their workers pay less for housing.

And while Wilson has been bragging about a recent 7% reduction in the rates businesses pay to insure themselves against on-the-job injuries, Minnesota rates were cut 16% in 1992. For many occupations, employers here pay far less than their California competitors, Kenagy said.

Not all the news greeting Wilson and a bipartisan delegation of legislators was bad.

A spokesman for 3M Corp., which was host Tuesday for a luncheon for the California contingent, said the state has demonstrated a "far more conciliatory and consistent" attitude toward business in the past year.

And Dayton Hudson Corp., the Minneapolis-based owner of Target and Mervyns, which already bills itself as the largest retailer in California, expects to build eight new Target stores and two new Mervyns in the state this year.

But Peter Bear, 3M's director of state government relations, said it will take a while for California's new attitude toward business to affect the expansion plans of major manufacturers, which are drawn years in advance.

"It's been so difficult for so long that it will take a sustained, positive change to influence our executives that they should consider California seriously for expansion," Bear said.

As an example of the kind of frustrations companies face doing business in California, Bear said that 3M filed forms in 1985 to remove a Camarillo plant from the state's list of sites that treat, store or dispose of toxic wastes.

But the company still is waiting for the state to process the forms and remove the site from the list. In the meantime, the firm must pay higher fees than it should, he said.

"To wait from 1985 until 1994, that's absurd," he said.

That is just the kind of problem Wilson has said he hopes to fix by streamlining California's permitting and regulatory agencies.

There has been one recent example of a Minnesota company expanding operations in California, but it may not be one that Wilson cares to boast about.

The Opus Corp. will be building a 17-story, twin-tower office complex in downtown Sacramento for the California Department of Justice. Wilson's General Services Department awarded the $60-million job to the Minnesota firm last year. Opus beat out two experienced California developers that also sought the contract.

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